Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader, four others shot dead


Bhubaneswar : At least five people, including a top leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), were shot dead in an ashram in Orissa’s Kandhamal district by an armed group during Janmashtami festival celebrations Saturday, the police said.

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Over 20 armed people started firing in the ashram at Jalespata village, at about 8 p.m., some 340 km from here.

“Five people were killed. They include Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati,” Gopal Chandra Nanda, state director general of police, told IANS. The dead include Swami Amrutananda, a woman and a boy.

The police could not confirm whether the attackers were Maoist guerrillas. “It looks like a Naxal attack but we are currently verifying,” Nanda said.

Octogenarian Saraswati was a member of the central advisory committee of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, one of India’s biggest Hindu nationalist groups. He had been leading an anti-conversion movement in the state.

The police have clamped orders prohibiting the gathering of four or more people in the entire district. Security has been beefed up in the area after the incident.

After hearing the news of the killings, thousands of people blocked roads at several places in the state. The state government has asked the police and district administrative heads to remain alert.

The Kandhamal district with a population of around 600,000, including 150,000 Christians, is considered one of the most communally sensitive regions in the state.

Saraswati has served tribes, mainly Kandhs, in the region. His main ashram is located at Chakapad in the same district. The place where he was killed is a smaller ashram meant for women.